A federal judge in Boston — Judge Joseph L. Tauro (D. Mass.), appointed to the bench by President Nixon back in 1972 — just struck down down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). As you may recall, DOMA is the 1996 law that effectively bans recognition of same-sex marriages for purposes of federal law.
The last substantive paragraph of Judge Tauro’s opinion summarizes the reasoning nicely….
Here it is (paragraph breaks added for readability):
In the wake of DOMA, it is only sexual orientation that differentiates a married couple entitled to federal marriage-based benefits from one not so entitled. And this court can conceive of no way in which such a difference might be relevant to the provision of the benefits at issue.
By premising eligibility for these benefits on marital status in the first instance, the federal government signals to this court that the relevant distinction to be drawn is between married individuals and unmarried individuals. To further divide the class of married individuals into those with spouses of the same sex and those with spouses of the opposite sex is to create a distinction without meaning. And where, as here, “there is no reason to believe that the disadvantaged class is different, in relevant respects” from a similarly situated class, this court may conclude that it is only irrational prejudice that motivates the challenged classification.
As irrational prejudice plainly never constitutes a legitimate government interest, this court must hold that Section 3 of DOMA as applied to Plaintiffs violates the equal protection principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
You can read more news coverage at the links below, and you can access the complete 39-page decision here (PDF).
UPDATE: Judge Tauro issued two DOMA opinions today; the second opinion is available here (PDF). A New York Times article discussing both rulings, including analysis from law professors regarding how they might fare on appeal, appears here.
Gill v. Office of Personnel Management [U.S. District Court (D. Mass.) via GLAD]
Massachusetts v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [U.S. District Court (D. Mass.) via Mass.gov]
Judge Topples U.S. Rejection of Gay Unions [New York Times]
Judge declares US gay-marriage ban is unconstitutional [Boston Globe]
Judge Rules Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional [Associated Press]
Federal Court Strikes Down DOMA Section 3 [Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders]